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1. THE MYSTERY FOURTH QUARTERBACK New Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris, general manager Mark Dominik, and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinksi have stated that Bucs will bring four quarterbacks to compete at training camp. In free agency, Tampa Bay did not show any interest in the free agent quarterbacks.
That group of free agents included four former first-round picks with starting experience in: Baltimore's Kyle Boller, Chicago's Rex Grossman, Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich, and Buffalo's J.P. Losman. None of those quarterbacks have garnered any interest on the open market, and neither has experienced veterans like Jeff Garcia, Brad Johnson, or Gus Frerotte. If the Bucs thought one of these quarterbacks could be their potential starting quarterback in 2009 they would have been aggressive with signing that player, giving them more time with the coaching staff and teammates to be compete for the job.
Tampa Bay could address the quarterback position in the draft. With their first-round pick the Bucs may select Kansas State's Josh Freeman if he is available at the 19th overall pick. The Buccaneers could also select a quarterback late in the draft, but it seems less likely for them to select another late-round quarterback since they have a late-round project at quarterback in last year's fifth-round pick Josh Johnson.
Perhaps the Buccaneers will turn around and sign one of the veteran quarterbacks after the NFL Draft. However a veteran signed at that point would be at a disadvantage in the quarterback's competition. The other three would have a head start of mini-camp, organized team activities, and meeting with coaches.
While there could be some other quarterbacks to hit the open market after the draft, one route not to forget about would be acquiring a quarterback through trade. Under former general manager Bruce Allen, the Buccaneers traded second day draft picks for Luke McCown and Tim Rattay.
With that in mind, who are some of the quarterbacks that could be available via trade? The two names that stand out the most after scanning NFL rosters are Miami's John Beck and Green Bay's Brian Brohm, The latter would require a higher draft pick because he was a second-round pick just last year. Brohm is also a pick of the current regime in Green Bay.
Beck, on the other hand, was chosen by former Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron. The current regime of head coach Tony Sparano and executive Bill Parcells acquired two quarterbacks, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne, to play ahead of the 27-year-old Beck. In 2007, as a rookie Beck started four games and appeared in one other contest. He completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 559 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Beck (6-2, 216) was inactive for every game in 2008, and could probably be had for a late second day pick. Also keep in mind that Tampa Bay thought highly of Beck prior to the 2007 NFL Draft. Outside of Beck, there could be some other backup quarterbacks that are unknowingly available on the trade market.
The longer they go without adding a fourth quarterback, the harder it will be for that player to make to the team and beat out either Josh Johnson or Brian Griese. At this point you can all but rule out the fourth quarterback being a viable competitor for the starting spot. If they thought an available quarterback could be their starter next season they would have been aggressive and signed them already.
Unless the Bucs use their first-round pick on a quarterback, their actions indicate that the fourth quarterback is likely to be battling for a roster spot and not the starting position, so don't expect a legitimate starting option when that player is brought on the roster. 2. BUCS HAVE A REAL NEED FOR A THIRD RECEIVER During the Buccaneers' three-day mini-camp this week there were a few needs that were clearly visible on the roster. The Bucs could use better depth at cornerback, linebacker, and quarterback. A pass rushing defensive end is still the number one need on the team, but after watching practice at the mini-camp the lack of a third wide receiver was a glaring weakness.
Starting wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton both looked very good in mini-camp. Quarterback Luke McCown had good chemistry with both receivers and did a good job of connecting with them on a variety of routes. Bryant and Clayton both were running with speed and creating separation from defensive backs. They also were solid in run blocking, which is a must for the wide receivers in offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's scheme.
After the starters, the Bucs have a serious lack of depth at wide receiver. Fourth-year pro Maurice Stovall looked okay in camp coming off his season-ending hamstring injury. Stovall was not overly impressive, and looked more like a fourth receiver.
Last year's second-round pick Dexter Jackson has been working hard all offseason, but that did not translate during the last few days of mini-camp. Jackson normally has good hands but had a very bad drop in the final practice, to go along with some struggles in getting off the line of scrimmage when he was getting bumped from physical corners like Aqib Talib. Jackson also did not go all out for a very well thrown bomb from Johnson. He pulled up and let the ball fall incomplete in the front of the end zone. Jackson didn't lay out for the ball, or try and give a final burst to get under the pass.
The other backups were just okay. Anthony Mix is a huge target and was better than expected in camp, but he is fighting to make the team rather than be the third receiver. Paris Warren and Cortez Hankton did not standout either.
There are some names on the free agent marketplace that have had some seasons of production and moderate success. Ronald Curry, 29, has played seven seasons with the Oakland Raiders, and had three semi-productive years. His best season was in 2006 when he had 62 receptions for 727 yards and one touchdown. Curry (6-2, 210) could have had better seasons if the Raiders had more consistent play from the quarterback. Darrell Jackson, 30, had three 1,000-yard seasons with the Seahawks but has had trouble staying healthy. His last productive season came in 2006 when he had 63 receptions for 956 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jackson (5-11, 210)
Former Detroit Lions Mike Furrey, 31, and Shaun McDonald, 27, are both still free agents. Both receivers were productive in Mike Martz's downfield passing offense. In 2006, Furrey had 98 catches for 1,086 yards and six touchdowns. In 2007, he had 61 receptions for 664 yards and a touchdown. Last season he had only 18 catches for 181 yards. McDonald had 79 catches for 943 yards and six touchdowns in 2007, and 35 receptions for 332 yards last season. Furrey is more of a possession receiver, and McDonald (5-10, 183) is a speed receiver that is a threat in the back end of the secondary. Bucs linebacker coach Joe Barry was in Detroit the past two seasons, so he can give an informed thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on his experience with them.
None of these receivers are going to come in and be all-world players, but they have the potential to be quality third receivers. They all would come very cheaply, and provide some more experienced depth. Stovall has three starts in his career, and Jackson saw only a handful of plays on offense as a rookie. The NFL Draft will also offer some options for the Bucs to upgrade their receiving corps. However they choose to do it, the Buccaneers definitely need to find a player to be their third receiver.
After the mini-camp this reporter spoke with some sources about the Bucs draft needs, and they said to expect Tampa Bay to grab a receiver with one of its early picks after the first-round. If Clayton or Bryant were to go down with an injury and miss a few games, the Bucs would be hurting to find someone to step in produce as a starter. Fortunately there is still a lot of the offseason left for Tampa Bay to find some more receivers in the draft and free agency.
3. MID-ROUND RECEIVERS CLARIFICATION In a recent Quick Hits the wide receiver position in this draft was discussed, namely the lack of depth at the position in the middle of the draft when the Bucs are being projected to target a receiver. That statement needs to be cleared up because this is a very good wide receiver class that is without a doubt one of the most talented position groups in this year's draft.
The lack of depth in the receiving class is for the type of wide receivers that the Buccaneers are targeting. Tampa Bay is in need of speed receivers that are big play threats. They need a player that, like former wide receiver Joey Galloway, is a threat to score a touchdown on any given reception.
In the first round of the draft there are a number of those players. Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, Missouri's Jeremy Maclin, Florida's Percy Harvin, Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey are all expected to go in the first-round. North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks is not as explosive as those four, but he too is capable of making big plays and he is probably a high second-round pick at this time. Rutgers' Kenny Britt is a late first round or early second round pick, but he is more of a possession receiver.
Harvin and Heyward-Bey are on the Bucs draft radar for their first pick in the draft, but that is more likely as a fallback in case there is not a defensive lineman that they like. After the first round the wide receiver class is deep with good players, but not with copious amounts of deep threat receivers. After the first round there are a handful of deep threat receivers that will be drafted in the second round and later. That list is comprised of Florida's Louis Murphy, Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi, Arizona's Mike Thomas, Mississippi's Mike Wallace, and Rutgers Tiquan Underwood.
The Bucs are without their second-round pick due to the Kellen Winslow trade, so that could take them out of contention for Murphy and Massaquoi. Thomas is more quick than fast, and is lacking top-end speed to create separation while running deep routes. He averaged 12.5 yards per catch in college. Underwood has the straight-line speed to get by defenders running straight down the field, but he is somewhat slow accelerating and getting separation off the line of scrimmage. He averaged a quality 14.6 yards per catch in college.
Wallace is really the only receiver that has the big play skill set that resembles the first round wide receivers. Wallace averaged 18.9 yards per catch in college, including over 20 yards per catch as a senior. To this reporter, Wallace is this year's Eddie Royal, a fast, dynamic wide receiver that was underused in college. It is no coincidence that Wallace finished the season on fire when quarterback Jevan Sneed started playing great football, and throwing the ball downfield accurately. For the season Wallace had 39 catches for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. In the last six games of the season Wallace had 527 yards and all seven of his touchdowns. He also had a fantastic Senior Bowl going up against the best senior corners.
Overall this draft has plenty of good wide receivers that will go in the middle rounds. Other than five players already mentioned there are quality receivers in Oklahoma's Juaquin Iglesias, Cal-Poly's Ramses Barden, Rice's Jarrett Dillard, and BYU's Austin Collie. However Tampa Bay does not need just any receiver, it needs an explosive game-changer and there are not many to pick from after the first round. 4. PASS RUSHERS BEYOND THE FIRST-ROUND Tampa Bay's biggest need on the roster right now is a pass rushing defensive end, but hypothetically lets say there are no pass rushers at the 19th pick that the Bucs like enough to draft. Texas' Brian Orakpo, Florida State's Everette Brown, Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson, and Northern Illinois' Larry English are all selected by the time the Buccaneers pick. In that case we'll say Tampa Bay comes away with Harvin, Heyward-Bey, or a cornerback like Illinois' Vontae Davis.
If that were the case how could the Buccaneers come away with another pass rusher? Well, it would be difficult but not impossible.
In the second round of the draft the only legit pass rusher is Cincinnati defensive end Connor Barwin. Last season was Barwin's only year at defensive end, but he ripped off 11 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss. Barwin (6-4, 256) would have to add a little size for the Bucs, and he told Pewter Report at the Senior Bowl that he would add weight for a 4-3 team if one drafts him. The odds of Barwin becoming a Buccaneer appear long when you also consider that Tampa Bay does not have a second-round pick due to the Kellen Winslow trade.
In the middle of the draft with picks in the third through fifth round the Bucs could target a few players with good pass rushing resumes. Texas Tech's Brandon Williams (6-5, 252) had 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for a loss. Williams is expected to go in the third round.
Another third-round prospect is Richmond defensive end Lawrence Sidbury. Last season Sidbury (6-2, 266) had 11.5 sacks after being a productive producer since breaking into the rotation as a sophomore. Sidbury's solid showing at the Senior Bowl has been the catalyst for his stock to steadily rise throughout the offseason.
Oregon State's Victor Strong-Butler had 12 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss last season. Unlike Williams and Barwin, Strong-Butler (6-2, 248) was not a one-year producer. As a junior he had 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss. Due to being undersized and viewed to have limited athleticism, Strong-Butler is being projected to be drafted in the middle of the second day of the draft.
Late in the draft the team could gamble on Houston defensive end Phillip Hunt. His career numbers are off the charts with 33.5 sacks and 49.5 tackles for a loss. As a senior, Hunt racked up 14 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. Hunt is listed as 6-foot-2, and 260-pounds which is exaggerated. The official measurements are unclear because Hunt was not invited to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine. The knock on Hunt is that he is a 'tweener' in the worst sense of the word. He is not big enough to hold up against the run, and he does not have the athletic ability to drop into pass coverage as a 3-4 standup linebacker.
Hunt and Strong-Butler get knocked for their sized, but so did Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil. He was one of the best pass rushers in college football but fell to the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft because he is undersized (5-11, 260). All he has done in three NFL seasons is record 26 sacks, including 12.5 in his second year.
With an impact pass rusher at the top of the Bucs' needs there is a great chance they go that route in the first round of the draft. It may be wise of Tampa Bay to take a pass rusher in the first round and later in the draft considering they could find a steal like Denver did in an undersized prospect that is a pure football player and producer.
5. FINAL THOUGHTS a. This reporter was very skeptical that the Buccaneers would be able to open training camp practices at One Buc Place, but this week a few sources voiced positive signs that the practices would be open and accommodate the public. I hope that is true for the sake of Bucs fans.
b. After speaking with sources, Pewter Report's mock draft projections were confirmed. The Buccaneers are likely to draft a pass rusher with their first pick in the draft.